UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

Atlantis still ‘go’ for its last mission

HOUSTON, May 13 (UPI) — NASA said Thursday the countdown for the launch of space shuttle Atlantis on its final planned mission into space was proceeding without any problems.

Atlantis was to lift off Friday from the Kennedy Space Center on its STS-132 mission to the International Space Station at 2:20 p.m. EDT.

“We’ve had a very clean countdown so far and we’re currently on schedule, and we’re not working on any issues,” NASA Test Director Jeremy Graeber said Thursday.

On the eve of their launch, the shuttle’s six crew members attended a systems and weather briefing with the ascent team of flight controllers at the Mission Control Center in Houston, the space agency said.?

During the 12-day mission, Atlantis will deliver an Integrated Cargo Carrier and a Russian-built Mini Research Module to the space station, with three spacewalks scheduled.

Favorable weather is predicted for the Florida space center launch. NASA Weather Officer Todd McNamara said the primary launch weather concern is a low cloud ceiling. But he said the forecast is good overall, calling for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time.

Mother’s voice as good as a hug

MADISON, Wis., May 13 (UPI) — U.S. researchers confirm calling mom reduces stress.

Biological anthropologist Leslie Seltzer and psychology professor Seth Pollak, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tested the stress levels of a group of girls ages 7-12 by requiring them to deliver an impromptu speech and do a series of math problems in front of strangers.

“Facing a challenge like that, being evaluated, raises stress levels for a lot of people,” Pollak said in a statement.

Once stressed, one-third of the girls were comforted with a hug by their mothers, one-third watched an emotion-neutral 75-minute video and one-third were handed a telephone with their mother on the line.

“The children who got to interact with their mothers had virtually the same hormonal response, whether they interacted in person or over the phone,” Seltzer says.

The levels of oxytocin — the “love hormone” strongly associated with emotional bonding — rose significantly and the stress-marking cortisol disappeared, the study found.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, might explain why many college students call their mothers as soon as they hand in an exam.

“I used to think, ‘How could those over-attentive, helicopter parents encourage that?’ Maybe it’s a quick and dirty way to feel better. It’s not pop psychology or psychobabble,” Pollak said.

Sterilizing, not killing, weeds suggested

WASHINGTON, May 13 (UPI) — U.S. Agriculture Department scientists say using herbicides to sterilize instead of killing weedy grasses might be more economical and environmentally sound.

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service said exotic annual grasses such as Japanese brome, cheatgrass and medusahead are harming millions of acres of grassland in the western United States. But herbicides used to control the invasive grasses also sometimes damage desirable perennial grasses.

In contrast, when used properly, scientists said growth regulators don’t greatly harm desirable perennial grasses and can control broadleaf weeds in wheat, other crop grasses and on rangelands.

ARS ecologist Matt Rinella and colleagues said they knew when dicamba and other growth regulator herbicides were applied to cereal crops late in their growth stage, just before seed formation, the plants produced far fewer seeds.

The scientists decided to see what occurred on the invasive weed Japanese brome. They found picloram (Tordon) reduced seed production nearly 100 percent when applied at the late growth stage of the weed. Dicamba (Banvel/Clarity) was slightly less effective but still nearly eliminated seed production, while 2,4-D was much less effective.

Rinella said since annual grass seeds only survive in soil a year or two, it should only take one to three years to greatly reduce the soil seed bank of annual weedy grasses without harming perennial grasses.

The research appeared in the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management.

New Tourette syndrome therapy considered

NEW HAVEN, Conn., May 13 (UPI) — A U.S. study has identified a rare genetic mutation that researchers say suggests a potentially novel approach for treatment of tics and Tourette syndrome.

Yale University School of Medicine scientists, led by Dr. Matthew State, said the mutation occurs in a gene required to produce histamine. They said that finding provides a new framework to understand many years of data on the role of histamine function in the brain.

Tourette syndrome is a relatively common neurological disorder characterized by tics — involuntary, rapid, sudden movements or vocalizations that occur repeatedly in the same way. The malady isn’t life-threatening but can be disabling.

State and his team said they found a family suffering the syndrome with a rare mutation in a gene that makes a protein is required for the production of histamine, which is an important neurotransmitter that influences a variety of brain functions.

“The opportunity to go directly from a rare genetic finding to a trial of a new approach to treatment in a neuropsychiatric disorder is very unusual,” State said. “There are several new medications in development that increase the release of brain histamine. Based on this genetic finding, these compounds would be good candidates for new treatments for Tourette.”

The research is to appear in the May 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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